The road through Norway, part IV: Svalbard

Being the last outpost before the North Pole, the backcountry of Svalbard is one that truly deserves to be called wilderness. On these desolate islands approximately 2500 people share the land with more than 3000 polar bears. The geography is striking: pointy mountains rising out of the sea, broad valleys crosscut by glacial rivers, ridgelines as sharp as the edge of a knife. 60% percent of the land is covered with ice.

Outside of the main settlements (and even inside of the smaller ones) carrying a rifle and a signal pistol are basic safety requirements. It’s a land of hunters and trappers, where sound instincts and a good intuition are necessary for survival, where us humans are not always on top of the food chain. I had seen Svalbard once before in summertime so a return to the islands while completely covered in a white, fluffy blanket was long overdue.

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Seven days of sunshine (but mostly snow)

The end of the dark season is a tough time, every season again. After the sun has officially risen above the horizon it still takes an undefined amount of time before one can actually see the yellow ball of joy, depending on where you are and how many obstacles are to be found towards the horizon. Besides of a lack of sunlight we found ourselves becoming claustrophobic in the woods, which certainly didn’t help to keep the spirits up during those final dark days.

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Walking on thin ice

Hours upon hours, days upon days, even weeks, I spent wondering what New Zealand looked like before humankind lessened it forever. Lush forests that are still related to another era of the world, inhabited by creatures as old as the dinosaurs like the tuatara. An entire ecosystem based on birds: grazing birds, pollinating birds, predatory birds, scavenger birds. A country where fjords have clouds of birds swarming over them and mountains are abundant in parrot chattering. A country that could be heard from the ocean miles and miles before it could ever be seen. A country where flightless parrots fell from trees like apples. All of it: gone.

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Jostedalen National Park

Ice cave Nigardsbreen

Deep inside Norway’s rugged fjord country and right into its high alpine area lies Jostedalsbreen, covering almost 500 square kilometres of mountain terrain with ice. It is the largest ice cap on continental Europe and thanks to its remote location it offers excellent opportunities for hiking, ice climbing, glacier walking, kayaking, etc. The park caters for everyone’s needs: from easily accessible glacial tongues and guided family tours on the ice to steep mountain tours and multi day ice cap crossings. It is a stunningly beautiful place and a recommendation for anyone who visits Norway with a love for untouched nature.

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Hello Norway!

Aurlandsfjorden

A couple of months ago I found a job for the summer season in Norway’s fjord country. So after finishing the winter season in Lapland, I packed up in Sweden and left for its neighbour. Living in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet was most certainly something on my bucket list. The outdoor possibilities in the Westfjord area are so big that I still have to keep myself from expanding my to-do list for eternity. And since I had already lived in Sweden, speak a Scandinavian language and had already been in Norway I anticipated that the transfer would go pretty smooth. Upon arrival however, I found myself not only repeatedly dazzled and excited by the beautiful landscapes (honestly, I hadn’t really seen a proper hill or mountain since my last hike in Sarek) but also repeatedly surprised by the small cultural shocks I encountered. Even though superficially similar, this country seems to be very different from Sweden and its inhabitants. Who are these Norwegians and what characterises their country?

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